Hi, my name is Rhys and I love Every Frame a Painting.
The act of watching film is instinctive. You can’t often tell why you like a movie, your gut just knows that you do. There’s something about it that made you laugh, cry, or scream – and then there’s plenty of films you won’t like that don’t. But what mystifies most of us is how that particular film made us respond in that particular way – even though we know that hours of expertise, dedication, and craft go into more or less everything committed to camera.
Herein is the value of a YouTube channel like Every Frame a Painting – recently declared no more by co-writers and editors Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos. If you want to become film literate, it can be a heady task to face, and one not everyone has the resources for. Expensive university and college courses, thick, impenetrable books and papers, or experts looking down their nose at the uninitiated – there are plenty of obstacles.
Tackling a different item in the cinematic toolbox with each bite-size video, all presented in plain English with a tweak of good humour through Zhou’s narration, Every Frame is the ultimate, indispensable starter pack for anyone who wants to understand how and why film works.
Accessibility quickly became the modus operandi for the Frame team, as was made clear when their video on Edgar Wright’s aptitude for visual comedy gave them their breakout (it’s at more than four million views and counting now). Key to its success was the open, unpatronising approach Zhou took. In his opening argument, there is little snark about the misgivings of Bridesmaids and the Hangovers he critiques as unimaginative and it’s a no-judgement space for the people who love those movies.
What the video gives the viewer, and what Frame would consistently offer across its output, was a simple message: This works. This doesn’t. Here’s why.
Technical explanations in a Frame video are never high-minded, always practical and demonstrative. Reasoning behind that close-up in Silence of the Lambs, that cut in Hot Fuzz, that zoom in Miller’s Crossing, is always given a tangible reasoning so every viewer gets to understand the how and why, no matter their level of knowledge.
Great filmmakers are showcased in the series – Akira Kurosawa, Lynne Ramsay, the Coen brothers, David Fincher – and the beauty of those showcase videos is that it gives the casual film-goer fresh layers of meaning and execution to unpack next time they watch their favourite movie. It’s that increased understanding which allows viewers to engage more directly with the art they observe, comprehend the techniques deployed, and come to their own informed, critical conclusions about what they see.
Equally priceless is the way some episodes serve as ‘how to’ guides for the aspiring filmmaker, opening them up to new ways of thinking and doing that might have never seemed available before, such as using direction to portray morality like in Snowpiercer, or splitting your screen into four pieces like in Drive. What Zhou and Ramos provided was a selection of extra colours for directors, editors, and actors (see the stunning Robin Williams tribute video) to add to their growing palate in order to develop their own acumen.
My own personal takeaway from Every Frame a Painting is how it encouraged me to see beyond the obvious when watching a piece of film, and to cut through my own sense of snobbishness to be articulate and thoughtful when expressing that I think something is good or bad. In that sense, I hope a new generation of film critics like myself is learning how to speak to its audience without dismissing them.
For the animators, directors, editors, and more working away behind the camera – I hope the series has given them the bravery to try something new, to think more about why they are doing something, and how doing something different might serve their art better.
In the script for their final, unfinished video – published online as a postmortem for the channel – Zhou and Ramos set out their stall best: “Thank you all for watching and supporting us over the past three years. We can never express what an amazing experience this has been and how much this has meant to us. We hope that this script may help someone somewhere. Just liked we hoped the videos would. Maybe we’ll see you for the next project.”
Film is instinctive. But it should never be exclusive. The concept of “help” is a vital one, and we can only hope people benefit from the generosity of Every Frame a Painting for years to come.